British and EU negotiators have re-engaged in Brussels for the final hours of the Brexit talks ahead of the latest deadline, as the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, pinned hopes for a breakthrough on a telephone call between the prime minister and European commission president.
The talks between teams led by the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, ran until midnight on Saturday and resumed on Sunday at 9am central European time, with some signs of movement.
Johnson and Von der Leyen will speak at lunchtime but further conversations are likely later in the day.
“As long as we are talking, we are progressing,” said one source in Brussels.
But speaking on Sunday morning, following a call with the British team, Raab said that for all the creativity in the talks in the Belgian capital, the negotiation would live or die depending on the outcome of the conversation on Sunday between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen.
“I called in to check in with our team in Brussels, they’ve worked incredibly hard. You remember, the prime minister made it made clear we want to leave no stone unturned,” Raab told Sky’s Sophie Ridge on Sunday.
“So we’ve been at it very hard at work at a technical everything with all the usual jostling of positions, but what really matters is what the EU is willing at a political level to commit too.
“There’s a conversation that Ursula von der Leyen the president of the commission will have with the prime minister minister later, that’s when we’ll know”.
Von der Leyen had agreed during a three-hour dinner on Wednesday evening that a “firm decision” would need to be made by the end of the weekend on whether there was any hope of a deal.
Both sides have said they would be willing to talk for a few more days if a final breakthrough could be achieved, although in the last 48 hours Johnson has talked up the chances of a no-deal exit from the transition period, calling it “very, very likely”.
From Brefusal to Brexit: a history of Britain in the EU
The French president, Charles de Gaulle, vetoes Britain’s entry to EEC, accusing the UK of a “deep-seated hostility” towards the European project.
With Sir Edward Heath having signed the accession treaty the previous year, the UK enters the EEC in an official ceremony complete with a torch-lit rally, dickie-bowed officials and a procession of political leaders, including former prime ministers Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home.
The UK decides to stay in the common market after 67% voted “yes”. Margaret Thatcher, later to be leader of the Conservative party, campaigned to remain.
Margaret Thatcher negotiated what became known as the UK rebate with other EU members after the “iron lady” marched into the former French royal palace at Fontainebleau to demand “our own money back” claiming for every £2 contributed we get only £1 back” despite being one of the “three poorer” members of the community.
It was a move that sowed the seeds of Tory Euroscepticism that was to later cause the Brexit schism in the party.
Thatcher served notice on the EU community in a defining moment in EU politics in which she questioned the expansionist plans of Jacques Delors, who had remarked that 80% of all decisions on economic and social policy would be made by the European Community within 10 years with a European government in “embryo”. That was a bridge too far for Thatcher.
Collapse of Berlin wall and fall of communism in eastern Europe, which would later lead to expansion of EU.
Divisions between the UK and the EU deepened with Thatcher telling the Commons in an infamous speech it was ‘no, no, no’ to what she saw as Delors’ continued power grab. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper ratchets up its opposition to Europe with a two-fingered “Up yours Delors” front page.
A collapse in the pound forced prime minister John Major and the then chancellor Norman Lamont to pull the UK out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
On 1 January, customs checks and duties were removed across the bloc. Thatcher hailed the vision of “a single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people”.
Tory rebels vote against the treaty that paved the way for the creation of the European Union. John Major won the vote the following day in a pyrrhic victory.
Tony Blair patches up the relationship. Signs up to social charter and workers’ rights.
Nigel Farage elected an MEP and immediately goes on the offensive in Brussels. “Our interests are best served by not being a member of this club,” he said in his maiden speech. “The level playing field is about as level as the decks of the Titanic after it hit an iceberg.”
Chancellor Gordon Brown decides the UK will not join the euro.
EU enlarges to to include eight countries of the former eastern bloc including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
EU expands again, allowing Romania and Bulgaria into the club.
Anti-immigration hysteria seems to take hold with references to “cockroches” by Katie Hopkins in the Sun and tabloid headlines such as “How many more can we take?” and “Calais crisis: send in the dogs”.
David Cameron returns from Brussels with an EU reform package – but it isn’t enough to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own party
The UK votes to leave the European Union, triggering David Cameron’s resignation and paving the way for Theresa May to become prime minister
After years of parliamentary impasse during Theresa May’s attempt to get a deal agreed, the UK leaves the EU.
Raab said the time of the crucial call had yet to be set but he offered some hope of a successful resolution, insisting there was a way out of a no-deal exit from the transition period on 31 December, when the UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs, with or without new trading and security arrangements.
He said: “We want to be treated like any other independent self respecting democracy. If you can accept that at a political level, then there’s every reason to be confident, but there is still I think a long way to go …
“The technical tools matter, getting creative solutions, understand the job positions really matters, but what ultimately is required, this 11th hour of negotiation is moving the political logjam, that can only happen at the level of the prime minister and commissioner Von der Leyen.”
The biggest stumbling block to a deal is the EU’s demand for an “evolution” or “ratchet” clause in the treaty that would create a mechanism to ensure that a minimum base-line of environmental, social and labour standards evolves over time, to ensure there is no significant distortion of trade secured through undercutting.
Downing Street has claimed the EU’s proposals would tie the UK to follow regulatory changes in Brussels or face automatic tariffs.
On Friday, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said this was not the latest proposal but that for zero tariff access to the European market, the EU needed some reassurances that if one side deviated significantly on standards on some products that there would be a structured conversation about addressing distortions to trade.
Rabb said: “Mark Rutte is on voice, he is normally pretty pragmatic, we are normally quite close to the Dutch on these matters …
“There are plenty of other voices. The bottom line is this: are we required to follow EU rules past present future and do we have a situation where when we are exercising normal control over our own law as any democracy does that we suddenly find there is a torpedo of tariffs.”